By Andrew Macdonald
Cabot Links ask of Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil and PM Justin Trudeau for taxpayer dollars to help build an $18 million Inverness airport represents political gall and is simply “corporate welfare,” says pioneering 1950s-60s CBC-TV journalist Kingsley Brown.
He tells The Macdonald Notebook that an airport in Inverness handy Cabot Links Golf Resort will benefit society’s one-percenters who golf at the Inverness golf courses, including American billionaire Warren Buffett, who has on several occasions landed at Port Hawkesbury’s regional airport to go golfing.
Brown, a long time Antigonisher, a raconteur and outdoorsman, whose Antigonish Harbour vineyard produces NSLC’s listing of Cote St. George, was the first pilot to land at the Allan J. MacEachen Port Hawkesbury Airport when it opened in 1973.
Political titan Allan J. MacEachen built the Port Hawkesbury airport as an economic tool for the industry giants who set up shop in the Strait area. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Gulf Oil built a refinery in Point Tupper, there was the pulp and paper mill, the creation of a heavy water plant to produce nuclear material for Atomic Energy of Canada, and there was also New York financier John Sheaheen’s plans for a second oil refinery in nearby Melford.
In 1969, Allan J. boasted in a Scotia Sun weekly news article that Port Hawkesbury was on the cusp of becoming Nova Scotia’s third largest city, partly spurred on because of its deep ice free so-called ‘super port’.
Brown, who at 85 still flies airplanes—he now has a float plane in Antigonish’s Southside Harbour—says that was the backdrop of Allan J’s reasoning for putting the airport in Port Hawkesbury.
As I reported last week, Allan J, the first ever deputy prime minister to PM Pierre Trudeau, decided against the airport going in his beloved hometown of Inverness, and he also nixed a plan for an airstrip to go to Margaree.
“The reason for the airport in Port Hawkesbury was because of all that industry there—and if you needed a part, you could get it flown in from any where in the world, to provide all the services that industry needed,” says Brown.
“The airport in Port Hawkesbury was put there specifically as an industrial development tool. There was a lot of development in Port Hawkesbury going on there at the time, and it looked like it was going to become a super port because of its natural resources and the industry already in place.”
“Remember in 1974, we had John Sheaheen charter the Queen Elizabeth II cruise liner to announce his oil refinery in Melford, which never materialized.
“It is an entirely different reason than putting an airport in a business that operates for only seven months of the year (such as a golf course),” Brown tells The Notebook.
He says it is the epitome of a corporate handout, for the one percenters, funding an Inverness airport so golfers do not have to drive one hour and 12 minutes from Port Hawkesbury.
Kingsley Brown does not buy a current Cape Breton MP’s support for an Inverness airport based on the idea that Inverness can attract commercially scheduled flights such as Jazz, Air Canada, West Jet and Porter Airlines.
“When is the last time you could have a guarantor on a politician’s word that meant anything?” Brown said in a The Notebook chat. “It is very definitely corporate welfare. This is a Shangri-la for the very rich,” he says of the Cabot Links proposed airport.
“Cabot Links is all that everyone said it is, it is providing employment and doing all of those things. But, no, we shouldn’t be dishing out money, anymore than we should be dishing out money for a Canadian Football League stadium in Halifax,” says Brown.
“I see those guys come down here to golf, I’ve seen the smiles on their faces when they are coming and going. The drive from that airport in Port Hawkesbury is straight up Route 19, a beautiful drive on the Cape Breton west coast, only an hour’s drive. That is part of the flavour,” Brown tells The Notebook.
How Brown landed the first airplane at Port Hawkesbury airport
In 1973, Brown flew to Port Hawkesbury for business and assumed the airport had been opened, but as he prepared to land, heavy machinery, including a paving roller, and work crew quickly scuttled off the still under construction airstrip, and Brown landed his Cessna.
A superintendent, wearing a white hard hat with my road building dad’s construction outfit, who built the Port Hawkesbury airport, descended upon Brown, and quickly told him the airport was not open, and suggested to the pilot that he went afoul of Transport Canada guidelines by landing his plane at an active construction site.
The super then called in the Mounties, who proceeded to phone Transport Canada’s director in Moncton, who told the cop in no uncertain terms, that Brown be allowed to do his town business and then fly out immediately afterwards—without being charged.
The Transport director, who flew bombers in the Second World War, was a close friend of Brown’s, a friendship formed over their aviation experience.
I contacted Brown after he sent this Letter to The Macdonald Notebook on the Inverness Airport proposed project:
“Cabot Links/Cabot Cliffs is all its promoters and golfers say. I wrote 60 years ago in a feature-length Atlantic Advocate article that Cape Breton Island should be made into a tourist and sports paradise.There was no future for coal and steel.
“Corporate welfare, we’re discussing now. With the ever-widening gap between pinched Canadians and the comfortable exclusives, it takes real gall to ask Canada to pay for, in effect, a private airport for a private Shangri-la of the rich. It must be stopped before we’re seen as crazy as rest of the world.
“I’ve watched corporate jets arriving at Port Hawkesbury from California, South America and Europe in a single day.”
“(As an aircraft owner, I made the first landing there.)”
“Back in wonderful Cape Breton shouts Warren Buffet, and the Irvings are smiling always ear-to-ear. An hour’s drive up the beautiful west coast isn’t a burden for them.”